Friday, March 18, 2016

Newsday Calls for Plastic Bag Ban on Long Island

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Living on an island like Long Island, one cannot help but have a relationship with the ocean. It is part of life in one way or another. You have to cross it to get to the continent or another island like Manhattan or Staten. You work on it as in the case of those who work in the fishing industry. Or you enjoy it like I do by boating or enjoying the view. Some of us worry about it due to pollution, global climate change, or ecosystem destruction. Just last night, as I was celebrating St. Patrick's Day with a friend at a local shoreline restaurant, a stranger chatted with us, and as will happen on Long Island, the topic of ocean pollution came up. Last night, the conversation was all about mercury pollution. While chemical pollution is a problem, one of the most persistent visible pollutants in our coastal waters is the ubiquitous plastic bag.

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The first time I really saw the impact of plastic bags on the environment was in Yemen in the late 1980's. Yemen doesn't have organized waste handling in most of the country and there are many informal dumps. It is an arid land, so most of the organic waste desiccates or rots and the rest of it stays put. However, due to the lightness of plastic bags, they get blown around all over the place. Since Yemen has a fair amount of succulent and cactus plants, the bags get lodged on the plants where they create a significant blight. Anyone who has traveled in the developing world has seen the problems associated with plastic bag pollution. I remember traveling in a beautiful area of Transylvania in Romania where the mountains were spectacular but where the the valleys were thick with discarded plastic bags.

But the problem is not just one of the developing world where there is limited garbage collection. It is a problem in the U.S. as well. Each year across Long Island tens of thousands of plastic bags are collected during coastal clean ups. Many communities across Long Island have moved to try to ban plastic bags in retail settings. Yet since we have hundreds of local governments across Long Island, the scattered approach will have minimal impact unless the region works together. That is why Newsday, Long Island's major paper, has called for an island wide ban of plastic bags. You can read the editorial here.

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